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What Does CBD Do to the Brain?

The popularity of CBD oil has been skyrocketing over the past few years, and there are several reasons for that. First and foremost, cannabidiol is known for a wide range of therapeutic health benefits - from relieving pain and alleviating symptoms of stress and anxiety to lowering blood pressure and acting as a treatment option for certain epilepsy syndromes.

Secondly, CBD is a non-intoxicating chemical compound, meaning that it doesn't produce the feeling of being"high," which makes it a safe, natural alternative to prescription drugs that provides no adverse side effects down the road. And, of course, it's impossible not to mention CBD's convenience in use - you can find a consumption method suitable for your particular needs and preferences.

While CBD shows promising results in ongoing studies, it's only natural if you want to find out more about the substance before introducing it to your routine. One of the most vivid concerns is perhaps the origin of CBD oil - the cannabis plant - and, therefore, its effects on the brain. Join us as we explore this subject in greater detail - only then will you be able to understand how CBD contributes to your overall well-being.

What Is CBD?

Before we get to the ways in which CBD affects the brain, let's take a closer look at the substance itself.

Cannabidiol is one of more than a hundred known chemical compounds found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. Out of these, cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most abundant and well-studied cannabinoids.

Now, while THC is associated with the aforementioned psychoactive effects that define the feeling of "high," CBD is non-intoxicating. In other words, it won't make you feel high even when consumed in high doses.

This is especially beneficial for those who want to experience the therapeutic effects of CBD oil but are unwilling to experience any psychoactive side effects that can interfere with their everyday lives. For instance, both amateur and professional athletes can use CBD oil to facilitate the recovery process without risking failing a drug test.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that you can find both hemp- and marijuana-extracted CBD. However, only industrial hemp plants contain low amounts of THC (0.3% or less), which means that hemp-derived CBD products are perfectly legal in the US under the 2018 Farm Bill.

At the same time, products containing CBD sourced from marijuana remain federally illegal as marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug.

How Does CBD Interact with the Human Brain?

Now that we know what this substance is and what it's not, we can get down to the effects of CBD on the brain. To understand how CBD oil works, we first need to look at a particular system in our bodies - the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

First discovered in 1988, the ECS is a complex network of receptors and enzymes that work together to help maintain homeostasis - a state of equilibrium in the body. In other words, the ECS is responsible for maintaining the balance of many key biological functions, including:

  • appetite,

  • metabolism,

  • pain perception,

  • mood,

  • sleep-wake cycle,

  • immune response,

  • memory and cognition,

  • motor control,

  • reproduction.

When something disturbs the balance within our bodies, the ECS is activated to restore it. It does so by producing our own, natural cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. Once produced, endocannabinoids travel through the bloodstream and bind themselves to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CBD2) located throughout the brain and body to activate these receptors to promote homeostasis.

CB1 receptors are found in different regions of the brain, including those responsible for controlling emotion, pain, cognition, and memory. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, regulate inflammatory responses and bolster the immune system.

Here, we need to be careful - there are lots of myths spread all over the internet about CBD's ability to bind to those cannabinoid receptors, but they are entirely mistaken. The one thing we know for sure is that CBD stimulates the ECS to produce more of its own cannabinoids and slows their breakdown.

Other receptor systems affected by the substance once it enters the body include:

  • serotonin system,

  • vanilloid receptors (also known as TRPV1 receptors),

  • GPR55, the orphan receptor responsible for regulating blood pressure, as well as bone density and reabsorption,

  • nuclear receptors (also known as proliferator-activated receptors or PPARs),

  • the breakdown of anandamide responsible for controlling pain perception, body temperature, mood, and appetite.

This way, cannabidiol can potentially help alleviate a wide range of symptoms that are caused by an imbalance within the endocannabinoid system. For example, studies show that CBD can:

  • Help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer if you're struggling with insomnia.

  • Reduce anxiety and depression symptoms by influencing serotonin receptors in the brain.

  • Alleviate chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity.

  • Protect your brain cells from damage by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

What's more, CBD shows potential as a treatment option for certain neurological conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. The exact mechanisms behind this remain unclear, but it's believed that CBD's anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties play a role. More research is needed to confirm this claim, but current findings are certainly encouraging.

More on the Potential Effects of CBD on the Brain Function

Now that you know how CBD works in the brain, let's take a closer look at the potential benefits it can have on the organ itself.

CBD and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions in the US, affecting around 40 million American adults. The most common symptoms include excessive worry, racing thoughts, irritability, and muscle tension, which, in turn, results in poor quality of sleep.

One study found that CBD may reduce performance anxiety and cognitive impairment in speech performance for those struggling with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). What's more, the participants who took CBD showed fewer cognitive impairments and felt less discomfort during public speaking tasks than those who didn't consume cannabidiol.

The study authors concluded that "the effects of a single dose of CBD, observed in this study in the face of one of the main SAD's phobic stimuli, is a promising indication of a rapid onset of therapeutic effect in patients with SAD." Still, there is a need for more clinical trials with chronic use chronic to confirm these statements.

In addition, a large case series on the role of cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep showed that the anxiety scores of participants decreased after taking CBD for a month.

CBD and Chronic Pain and Inflammation Relief

For thousands of years, cannabis has been used to treat pain. While THC has long been known for its pain-killing properties, studies show that CBD can also effectively ease the pain. CBD relieves pain by acting on CB2 receptors, which are primarily found on immune cells and are responsible for suppressing the inflammatory response produced by immune cells.

CBD reduces the number of inflammatory molecules present at sites of inflammation, such as chemokines and cytokines. CBD's ability to reduce inflammation peripherally aids in the blocking of pain signals to the brain.

In addition, pain is the most common symptom that people use CBD oil to alleviate. In fact, a study published in 2008 already states that CBD is a natural pain suppressor, and because of the CBD's ability to inhibit neuronal transmission without causing substance dependence can be used as a potential treatment for chronic pain and an effective alternative to prescription opioid drugs.

CBD and Epilepsy Treatment

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there suggesting that CBD can help alleviate seizure symptoms in people with epilepsy.

However, it wasn't until 2018 that this claim was finally backed by science. In June 2018, the FDA approved the first CBD-based medication called Epidiolex for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy - Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

CBD and Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects around 6.5 million American adults of age 65 and older. It's characterized by cognitive impairments, memory loss, and changes in behavior.

CBD's neuroprotective properties may make it useful in the treatment of neurological diseases. In other words, CBD protects neurons from degeneration, allowing the brain to remain younger.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, some treatments can help alleviate its symptoms. Some studies suggest that CBD might be one of them. For example, CBD was found to inhibit the development of Alzheimer's symptoms in a 2007 study on Alzheimer’s Disease.


As you can see, even though CBD interacts with human brain cells indirectly, this results in very tangible effects. While there are multiple ways in which CBD affects our overall well-being, some of its most prominent properties include pain-killing and anti-anxiety effects.

Of course, more research is still needed. However, current results already allow CBD to be used as a treatment for specific forms of epilepsy, indicating that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

If you're still on the fence about whether to try CBD or avoid it, it's completely up to you. But hopefully, this article helped bust at least a few myths surrounding the substance, including speculations on its toxicity, addictiveness, and adverse side effects.

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